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Roy Osing
Roy Osing

Leadership Lab

How to survive a shift in the marketplace Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

When do you know a shift is occurring that will significantly alter the competitive landscape and terms of play?

There are some people who lead a shift and determine its direction. Steve Jobs engineered a series of discontinuities that not only changed the world of communication and social engagement, they also vaulted his company to another level.

But for most of us “mere mortals,” a shift is experienced after is has begun and marketplace changes are being felt.

Most retailers waited to see how online buying was going to evolve before morphing their brick-and-mortar business into virtual stores with cyber-selling.

Traditional media world is another example where the players gradually incorporated digital and mobility capabilities into serving their customers and marketing their services.

It is rare that one is able to “see the forest for the trees” when discontinuity strikes; it is virtually impossible to see ahead and predict how it will all play out.

What is certain, however, is that those that decide to stand on the sidelines and observe the action forego any opportunity to influence the shift and have any control over the outcome.

Willing and active participants stand a chance of surviving; you either lean into a shift or be subsumed by it.

Eight actions leaders can take to be a shift survivor

Be a continuous learning organization, always on the lookout for a tipping point in customer behaviour. Study adoption rates of new technologies and customer solutions. Pay special attention to wants and desires of people rather than their needs. A shift is likely to be driven by non-essentials.

Create a risk-taking culture. Shift survival equals (doing) (lots of) (imperfect) (stuff) (fast). If you are not experimenting in the shift, you won’t survive it. Judge your survival competency on the number of failures you create.

Disrupt your current direction. Aggressively intervene on yourself and push for order of magnitude change even if you don’t think it is necessary. Modest change won’t satisfy the shift; monumental change might.

Apply “extension thinking” to overlay a trend in other industries on your business. Digital shift creates new value for people by connecting and controlling smart devices through cloud-based software platforms. What opportunities does this capability make possible for you? Study the trees and consider the broader implications.

Get your plan “just about right.” Reduce precision in the plan; increase precision in execution. Don’t try to create a perfect plan . It doesn’t exist, and while you are trying to discover it, you are not doing anything. Take an imperfect plan, execute it flawlessly, learn from the results you achieve and adjust it along the way.

Cut the crap that gets in the way of engaging in the shift. The projects and activities that may have been important in the old world may be grunge in the new shifted version. How much stuff in your current business is crap in the emerging markets? How many resources are deployed in yesterday? Trying to preserve your traditional business robs you of the ability to engage the shift. Honour but expunge the old; you don’t have sufficient bandwidth to take on the new if you don’t.

Create value that is relevant and unique for the customers you serve. Avoid flogging your products; start delivering special experiences. Address the key wants and desires of the customers you choose to serve. Be the only one that does what you do in order to stand out from the herd.

Focus. Focus. Focus. Do the few things critical to your shifted direction; avoid the possible many. Failure (and survival) is directly related to the amount of unproductive activity you have going on. Pick three (or four) projects and do them brilliantly.

Surviving shift requires different thinking and different action.

If you presume that what got you here will get you to where you need to go, you’re fooling yourself.

Roy Osing (@RoyOsing), former executive vice-president of Telus, is a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead, dedicated to helping organizations and individuals stand out from the competitive herd.

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